Roberto Firmino had a fine first season that caused Reds fans to reminisce about another South American attacker with very similar attributes. Although Firmino is not close to the level Luis Suarez was at in a red kit, the Brazilian showed why he was worth all of the £29m the Reds paid for him last summer. Operating through the middle as a CAM, a false number nine, or out wide on the wing, Firmino illustrated his tremendous positional versatility and effectiveness all over the pitch. If it wasn’t for his very sluggish start to the season under Brendan Rodgers, Firmino’s numbers would have been even more impressive. However, once Jürgen Klopp became the manager and deployed Firmino in positions that best suited his skill set, the Brazilian’s immense talent was able to shine through. At just 24 years old, Firmino has plenty of room to grow, and the potential to recreate some of what Suarez was able to do at Anfield in the coming years.
In terms of statistical output, Firmino was excellent in 2015-2016, recording eleven goals and eleven assists in over 49 appearances in all competitions. Firmino was at his best operating through the middle as a false nine where he was able to rack up six goals and five assists in only eleven appearances. Furthermore, Firmino was one of Liverpool’s most reliable creative outlets on the attack, creating 69 chances over 44 appearances in the EPL and the Europa League The Brazilian averaged 1.6 key passes and 1.5 dribbles per game, nearly matching Liverpool’s star man Philippe Coutinho who recorded two key passes and 1.8 dribbles per match. Firmino often displayed an excellent connection with his Brazilian compatriot Coutinho, as they weaved passes together to open up defenses throughout the course of the season. In Liverpool’s second semi-final against Villarreal, Firmino and Coutinho played off each other extremely well, creating numerous chances for themselves and their teammates. Firmino and his fellow Brazilian look to have created a fine partnership that will be a daunting task for defenses to face on a weekly basis in the coming years.
For all of Firmino’s exploits in attack this season, he was still prone to matches where his passing and touch on the ball would be woefully off. This inconsistency is very reminiscent of the rest of Liverpool’s squad, but if Firmino intends to become one of the club’s leaders and consistently lead his team to trophies, he needs to become more consistent. For example, the Brazilian’s passing accuracy was an underwhelming 77.3%—lower than both Coutinho and fellow attacking midfielder Adam Lallana. In games where Firmino’s impact is muted, his passing is usually the key reason behind his poor performances. This tendency to have off days in his distribution cannot continue due to his massive role in Liverpool’s attacking system.
One of Firmino’s most valuable traits is that he brings so much more to his side than just his attacking output. The Brazilian is ruthless in pressing and closing down opponents, forcing the opposition into mistakes. Firmino recovered possession every 14.5 minutes, a number that is very similar to Lallana’s mark of 14.1. Firmino, like Lallana, is tremendous in pressing opponents intelligently so as to cut off passing lanes. The Brazilian is ruthless in closing down opponents, consistently forcing passes under pressure for all 90 minutes of the match. Firmino won 83.6% of the 2.2 tackles he made per match in the EPL this season. For an attacking player, this is an outstanding number. In fact, most central midfielders even have trouble reaching this number. Teammate Jordan Henderson only averaged 1.5 tackles per match in the Premier League this year despite having to carry more responsibility in breaking up play. Firmino’s uncanny effectiveness regaining possession in Klopp’s gegenpressing system that values this quality is incredibly appreciated by his manager. As Firmino gains experience and gets a full preseason under his belt with Klopp’s arduous training regimen, his pressing will only improve—a scary proposition for Premier League defenders.
Looking to the future, 2015-2016 gave Liverpool fans a glimpse of the attacking dynamo Firmino can become in a red jersey. The Brazilian will only continue to get better in all facets of the game, namely his consistency, an enticing possibility for Liverpool fans. Additionally, due to the constant injuries among the Reds’ strikers, Firmino was unable to create a true partnership with anyone striker. This year should be much different in this regard due to a far less congested fixture list, allowing the Brazilian to gain a much better rapport with his striking core. In the matches that all of Liverpool’s attacking players played well together, namely the 4-0 destruction of Everton and 3-0 domination of Villarreal, the Reds’ attack gave a glimpse of what may be to come in 2016-2017. One thing is for sure though, Firmino will continue to be a constant threat for defenses not only as an attacker but also as a defender.